The Soldier's Rebel Lover
The second book in Marguerite Kaye’s Companions in Arms duo, The Soldier’s Rebel Lover is a worthy companion piece to the equally good The Soldier’s Dark Secret, and like that book, takes a thoughtful look at the after-effects of war on those who fought and what happens to them when war is over. As well as all that, there’s a swoonworthy hero, a tender, well-developed romance, and a dash of adventure – all of it beautifully written and developed in just under three hundred pages.
We are re-introduced to Major Finlay Urquhart, a man who has, most unusually for the time, worked his way up through the army ranks on his own merit, and whose occasional insubordination and unorthodox methods caused the Duke of Wellington to nickname him the “Jock Upstart”. Some months after the decisive victory at Waterloo, Finlay’s closest friend, Jack Trestain, asks him to return to Spain on a mission of the utmost delicacy; namely to effect the rescue of El Fantasma (The Ghost), a notorious Spanish partisan who aided the British during the war. With the new Spanish regime having returned to a much more strict, almost feudal system of government, El Fantasma is now targeting that government in the seditious pamphlets he writes and distributes, decrying the loss of freedom and railing against the injustices that are being perpetrated upon the people. During the war, Jack – as Wellington’s premier code-breaker – worked closely with El Fantasma and feels strongly that someone who helped to secure the British victory over Napoleon deserves better than death at the hands of his countrymen. But there is an added complication; even though the British have cause to be grateful to the partisan, he was witness to some of the less honourable things done by the British army, and so is a threat to Wellington and his political ambitions. Stuck between a rock and a hard place and knowing nothing about it, El Fantasma is in danger from both sides, and Jack wants Finlay to get him out of Spain and to a place of safety as quickly as possible.
But that’s easier said than done. Jack never met El Fantasma and the Spaniard’s operation was carefully constructed so as to keep secret the identities of the man himself and his operatives. Finlay does, however, have one, very small lead. A couple of years previously, while reconnoitring a French ammunition dump, he encountered a beautiful Spanish woman named Isabella who claimed to know El Fantasma. He believes that if he can find her, he might be able to track down the partisan and find a way to meet with him. It’s a slight chance, but it’s the only one they have. Finlay believes Isabella may have been a worker on the extensive Romero estate and vineyard so, posing as a wine merchant, he makes his way there on the pretext of brokering a deal with Señor Xavier Romero, for the export of his fine Rioja.
He can hardly believe his luck when he encounters Isabella almost immediately – and is surprised to discover that she is far from the humble servant he had thought her. She is Romero’s sister and is, Finlay quickly discovers, continually chafing against her brother’s overprotectiveness and his insistence that she adhere to the strict code of behaviour expected from well-born Spanish ladies.
The undeniable frisson of attraction that had sparked between the couple on the night they first met roars back to life, but much as he would like to explore the possibilities, Finlay can’t afford to spend too much time with the Romeros. For one thing, he knows little about wine and is sure his cover story won’t hold up for too long; and for another, the Spanish authorities are closing in and time is running out for El Fantasma.
Ms Kaye very skilfully blends together the different elements of her story, bringing the historical detail to vivid life and creating a sensual and tender romance between two attractive, well-characterised protagonists. If the book has a fault, it’s that some of Isabella’s actions seem rather naïve and thoughtless, especially when faced with imminent danger – but while I can’t deny that her intransigence is sometimes frustrating, the author’s presentation of her as a character whose idealism is untempered by pragmatism feels very realistic. Isabella is by no means stupid, but her intense desire to rid her homeland of the threat posed by Bonaparte, and then to speak out about the injustices perpetrated by the new regime has caused her to lose sight of the bigger picture; and I found that aspect of her character very plausible.
Finlay is, as I’ve said, a hero to swoon over; intelligent, handsome and honourable, he is, like so many other returning soldiers, at a bit of a loose end and not sure where he fits in in a post-war world. As in the previous book, Ms Kaye’s attention to historical detail is impressive, the writing is excellent, and all in all, The Soldier’s Rebel Lover, is a thought-provoking and eminently readable historical romance.